Children and language change

Spike Gildea spikeg at OWLNET.RICE.EDU
Fri Jan 19 17:34:53 UTC 1996

My impression is that young children do not show a lot of deviation from
their parents, but that real language change starts to happen during
adolescence and continues through young adulthood.  Certainly semantic
innovation is particularly common in this age group.  Looking at
sociological motivations for change, this is also exactly the age group
where innovation is most highly prized, and group identification is usually
with the age group peers *in opposition to* older role models.

Has anyone actually studied the speech of children versus that of
adolescents with an eye to identifying the points at which the innovations
which stick begin to occur?  Do you find, e.g., that some innovations
*begin* with older children?  Would it even be possible to test the
hypothesis, given (a) that language change is such a slow process and (b)
that younger children are so frequently exposed to older children and

The only ideas I have would be something akin to longitudinal studies of
first and second language acquisition, in which one could study speakers of
one social or geographical dialect (ideally with a sample inculding a range
of ages) who move into a different social or geographical dialect area.  We
could then perhaps see if the children are the only ones who alter their
speech accordingly (i.e. who become bi-dialectal).  My guess is that adults
of any age (but especially young adults) would be able to acquire the
relevant morphosyntactic properties (if not the phonological properties of
the "accent") and use them productively; I'd be willing to bet that
teenagers would do as well as the children.

What about some better ways to test the hypotheses?


More information about the Funknet mailing list